Competition & Handicapping

Competition formats linked to the ITN

Competition is a vital part of both attracting and keeping people in the game of tennis. One of the big advantages of having a national rating system is that the players can be organised competitively into similar playing categories. This in turn will make the competition played more enjoyable for all of those participating and ensure that people continue to want to participate in competitive tennis.

The implementation of a national rating system has proven to be very successful in maintaining a high level of tennis participation in a number of countries. The ITF believes that an effective national rating system combined with a variety of competitive formats and scoring systems can ensure high levels of player participation in a country.

Alternative scoring formats

Over the past five years, the ITF Rules of Tennis, click here,  have changed to allow a number of alternative scoring systems to be used in competitive play. These new scoring systems allow National Associations, clubs and tournament organisers to better adapt the competition to the needs of the participants. The new scoring systems include:

No-Ad scoring method:

  • At ‘deuce’, one deciding point is played to determine the winner of the game. The receiver decides to which service court this last point is to be played.

Short sets:

  • The first player / team who wins four games will win that Set, provided that there is a margin of two games over the opponent(s). If the score reaches four games all, a tiebreak game (seven points) shall be played.

Deciding tiebreak game (seven points):

  • When the score in a match is one set all, or two sets all during a best of five sets match, one tie-break game (seven points) shall be played to decide the match. This tiebreak game replaces the deciding final set. The player who first wins seven points shall win this match tiebreak and the match provided there is a margin of two clear points over the opponent(s) i.e. 7-5 or 8-6.

Deciding match tiebreak (10 points):

  • When the score in a match is one set all, or two sets all during a best of five sets match, one tie-break game (10 points) shall be played to decide the match. This tiebreak game replaces the deciding final set. The player who first wins ten points shall win this match tiebreak and the match provided there is a margin of two points over the opponent(s) i.e. 10-8 or 11-9.

For further details, please consult the current ITF Rules of Tennis, click here.

Alternative competition formats

Traditionally the main format used in tournaments was the single elimination draw using the best-of-three-set matches scoring format. However there is a wealth of alternative competition formats available:

  • Round Robin: singles and doubles with variations
  • Box leagues
  • Feed-in consolation/compass draw
  • Basic consolation (first match losers with consolation), last hope, feed-in consolation or compass draw, continuous feed-in event, rated draw (knock-out format with block seeding), staggered draw, double elimination event, and double elimination draw
  • Ladders: Pyramid ladder and group ladder
  • Team, doubles, score and time competition formats.

For further ideas on alternative competition formats, please click here for the Competiton section.

A decision will need to be taken at national level regarding which types of matches and competitions should be counted towards a players rating. The ITF believe that in order for a match to be counted towards a player’s rating it should follow the basic tradition of the original scoring system in tennis whereby the player has the chance to win the match even if he loses the first set. Therefore instead of a Pro-Set scoring format, the ITF would recommend using the short sets format with a deciding tiebreak game (seven points).

Once the national rating system has been introduced in a country, all competitions at national, regional and club level should use the rating categories as the basis for organising tournaments. The match results generated by the many formats used will allow the players to be rated and re-rated on a regular basis. In addition, as a result of the implementation of the national rating system, it will be possible to have national individual and team competitions for each rating category.


Using handicapping to facilitate enjoyable competitive play

The most important objective of the International Tennis Rating project was to increase participation in tennis. The ITF believes that an effective handicapping system for tennis can also play an important role in achieving this objective especially at the recreational level by facilitating play between players of different competitive levels.

Handicapping is a complimentary element to the rating system i.e. it is linked to the overall mission of getting more people playing tennis; however, results from handicapped matches should not count towards a player’s ITN rating.

A form of ‘free points’ handicapping could be used effectively for players where the difference in level is not too great (e.g. when the average set score is between 76 and 62) to ensure that the match played is closer in score and therefore more enjoyable to both players. See below for more details regarding the 'free point' handicapping system.

Where there is a greater difference in the level of two players (e.g. when the average set score is 60 or 61) establishing an effective handicapping system is unrealistic, usually not enjoyable for the two players concerned and utlimately ineffective.

ITN ‘Free Point’ handicapping system

This handicapping system is based on a ‘free points’ system which allows players of different levels to engage in a match where the outcome is extremely close.

Step 1

Players agree on what is a typical match score when they play a match. For instance, if they have played five times they can throw out the two matches with the largest margin of victory and also the two with the smallest margin of victory. The remaining match is the basis for the handicap.

Step 2

The player who is receiving the free points can claim them at any time. If claiming the point does not end a game then it will count as a service point played and the server will serve to the appropriate court for the next point.

Step 3

The player who loses the first set gets an additional free point in the next set (this could be either player).

Step 4

If players split sets then the loser of the second set gets an additional free point for third set (this could be either player, but now both players will posess at least one free point).

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